Last Friday, the Supreme Court granted cert in another habeas case, Cavazos v. Williams.
This is the issue:
Whether a habeas petitioner’s claim has been “adjudicated on the merits” for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) where the state court denied relief in an explained decision but did not expressly acknowledge a federal-law basis for the claim
The State had sought cert. on the underlying substantive issue, but cert. was only granted on the procedural issue quoted above.
Just to make it more clear, here is what we are talking about. And I'll use the facts of Williams. Petitioner raises a claim in state court based on the trial court's dismissal of a juror during deliberations. Petitioner argues that the court's actions violated a bunch of different things, including petitioner's federal constitutional right to a jury trial. The state court addressed nearly all of petitioner's arguments, but did not expressly rule on the federal constitutional claim. The state court did not mention it in any way. In other words, the state court simply did not make a specific adjudication on the merits of the federal constitutional claim, even though it was presented to the court.
As with most cert grants in habeas cases these days, this one has me worried. Greatly worried. This issue had been settled in the Circuits in petitioner's favor prior to Richter. But now, at least one circuit (the 11th) has concluded that Richter's holding that summary decisions are presumptively adjudications on the merits expanded the definition of adjudication on the merits to include basically every merits based state court decision, regardless of whether the state court decision addressed the consitutional claim that is being pursued in federal court.
Apparently, it may be that any silent denial is now presumptively on the merits. I don't see how Richter can be read that broadly, but apparently that is the new reality. I guess my problem is that I just don't see the Richter "presumption" anywhere in the statute. How can it now apply to every state court decision? In my mind, reading this presumption into 2254 for every state court decision (not just the summary kind) would not be consistent with the idea of comity upon which all of these habeas procedural rules were created. Petitioner gave the state court the opportunity to rule on the claim, but the state court chose not to do it. Why should there be deference? It's not logical.
Let's just hope that I am getting worked up over nothing. But I fear that this really is where the Court is going to go with this.